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Category Archives: InfoPath 2007 // Forms Server

Case-Insensitive Comparison in InfoPath

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Quick Hit: Reading InfoPath XML Directly From an SPListItem in SharePoint

I’m been working on a project where I need to extract attachments from an InfoPath form.  There are some good resources for parsing InfoPath forms (which are just XML files, so it’s actually quite easy). 

While I was building up the project, I started by downloading an InfoPath form and saving it to my local hard drive.  My c# code was reading directly from that instance.  However, the InfoPath forms are really living inside a SharePoint forms library.  I did a little half hearted searching to find out how to read it directly from the library and almost gave up, in which case I would have saved the form to a local temp directory and read it from there.  However, there’s no need to go through those hoops as you can read it directly from the library.  This little snippet shows how:

/// Class definition stuff here, including:
private SPFile mySharePointFile; /* Part of an SPList */
// More code goes here and inside a method of the class we have:
XmlTextReader textReader;
textReader = new XmlTextReader(mySharePointFile.OpenBinaryStream());

textReader.WhitespaceHandling = WhitespaceHandling.None;


// If the node has value

while (textReader.Read())

  … and so on and so forth …


They key bit above is that we can read the InfoPath directly via the OpenBinaryStream() method call on the SPFile as a parameter to the constructor on XmlTextReader.  It works great.


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Programmatically Extracting Attachments From InfoPath Forms (Including Their Names!)

I have an expense entry solution for a client that leverages InfoPath and workflow.  At one point during the approval process, I need to generate an email that has all of that good InfoPath data as well as the attachments themselves so that (sigh) someone can take that data and manually re-key it into an Oracle database application.

It’s not very difficult to get at or parse the InfoPath form.  I didn’t know how to handle the attachments, however.  After an hour or two of poking around the Internets (an eternity!) I found this article:

It provide some handy code to extract the attachment from a node in the form.  (You still need to find the node and all that, but that’s just XML parsing).

I know that the attachment is base64-encoded and I originally went down the path of just extracting the the base64 data, decoding it and saving it.  However, I quickly realized I didn’t know how to get the file name itself until I found the aforementioned article.

I had actually found that quite early, but I was put off by its split personality. On the one hand, the article *says* it’s good for InfoPath 2007.  Yet, the code and instructions are all about Visual Studio 2003 and references to InfoPath 2003.

Bottom line, the code that article provided is working well for me (so far).  I can get my InfoPath form, I can parse it, I can find and decode the attachment and I know its name.  What more can one ask of one’s life?


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Managing Approval Groups with InfoPath in an FBA Environment

I have an expense approval process that I need to implement using InfoPath in a forms based authentication (FBA) environment using forms services (web based InfoPath).

There are two approval groups and the process works like this:

  • User fills out an expense report and submits it for approval.
  • That triggers an email to first level approver group.
  • First level approver reviews and approves or denies the report.
  • If first level person approves it, system notifies second level approver.

On the InfoPath side of things, I have different sections that hide/appear based on whether the user is a member of one of those approval groups.

In an FBA environment the username() function always returns blank, sadly.  What I’ve done is set up a a custom list called “Approval Groups”.

I don’t add any additional columns to the list.

When the form opens up, it has a rule like this:

The “set a field’s value” is here:

This is basically saying: Query the approval group custom list and filter that query by looking for any row where Title’s value = “NORDIC”.

If that returns any value, then the current user is a member of that group.  I know it contains that value because the string length is greater than zero.

Close the loop by securing the individual items in the Approval Group list.  At run-time, if the current user doesn’t have appropriate security access to that item then the query won’t return it, string-length will be zero and now you know the current user is not part of that group.  You can use that fact as needed in the form.

This is a super brief write-up.  I’m pressed for time or I’d provide more detail.

I don’t know how relevant it is that I’m in an FBA environment.  This would probably work well in a non-FBA environment but I can imagine cases where this would be useful.


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InfoPath // One Explanation for “Unhandled exception when rendering form System.Xml.XmlException: Unexpected end of file while parsing Name has occurred. “

I was working on an InfPath form today and ran up against an old friend, “Unhandled exception when rendering form System.Xml.XmlException: Unexpected end of file while parsing Name has occurred.”

This happened to me a long time ago and I don’t know what exactly I did to resolve it.  Honestly, I think that I had been transitioning to a new project and never saw this one resolved (my replacements had to deal with that headache).  I do remember it was a devil of a problem.  I spent several unsuccessful days dealing with it.  Since then, I’ve seen this come up on MSDN forums at least once over the last year and never really saw an answer for it.

I hit it today and fortunately this time , I had just made a change to the form.  I backed out that change and the problem went away.  It turns out that it’s possible to create a from template using InfoPath Designer in such a way that it generates a parse error on the forms server side of the fence.

In my case, the problem was caused by these steps:

  1. Add a new element to a data source as a text field.
  2. Drop it onto the form.
  3. Change it’s display into a drop down list.
  4. Tell the drop down list to pull its values from a SharePoint custom list.

I don’t know if those steps cause a problem or maybe, somehow the data in the list itself is a problem. I’m going to experiment a bit and see if I can nail downt he parameters of this with any more detail. 


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Embed Developer Notes Inside Your InfoPath Forms

I’m still living in InfoPath Forms world and I needed to make one of those “small” changes to a form that, unfortunately, breaks a naming convention I adopted with it two weeks ago.  I thought to myself, “someone is going to look at this thing a year from now and say, ‘What was Paul thinking?  By Jove, his naming convention makes no sense!”

I realized that I could create a view on the form for this and then, once again, realized that I could have been doing something like this all along.  I added a “Developer Notes” view to the InfoPath form as such:

I’ve configured the form so that users can’t get to that view and therefore, it’s only visible with the InfoPath client in design view.  Now I feel a little inoculated against some future unknown developer looking at my form and thinking bad thoughts about me.  Phew!


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Managing InfoPath Views

I seem to go through InfoPath phases where, out of the blue, I’m crafting a bunch of forms.  My fingers learn how to use the tool well and then I go through nine month drought and have to learn it all over again. 

I’m in the middle of an InfoPath phase and I’m creating InfoPath forms with a lot of views. One thing you probably notice is that the InfoPath 2007 client shows views in alphabetical order.  This is a real nuisance some times.  My best technique these days is to prepend a number to the view name so that they always show in the order I want, as illustrated here:

I wish I had been doing this all along. 


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InfoPath Form Sevices, Forms Based Authentication (FBA) and Unique File Names

I’ve been working on some InfoPath forms this week in MOSS in an FBA environment and learned, when I went to deploy the forms to a production environment with an FBA zone that the username() function function does not work.  I was using it to generate unique file names.

Well, that function doesn’t work in an FBA environment (at least, not out of the box).  And, upon reflection, using username in the way I had planned wouldn’t have guaranteed a unique file name in any event.

My solution was to use the now() function and a rule that fires on loading of the form.  I assign the file name to data element when it’s blank:

The advantage of this approach is that the file name is set only once.  (I don’t show it in the screen shot, but put a condition on the rule to only fire when “myFilename” is blank).  I used to set the file name at the data source level.  Typically, I would do something (bad) like this:

The problem with that is that if user A opens the form on Monday and the user B changes it on Tuesday, you’ll end up with two different forms since two different users saved it with different user names.

So, as annoying as FBA can be in general and with InfoPath in particular, it made me re-think a small but really important technical detail and approach that I wouldn’t have done otherwise!


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Quick and Simple: Make an InfoPath Form Read Only (InfoPath Forms Services in MOSS)

There’s a common business scenario like this:

  • User fills out an InfoPath form.
  • Submits form.
  • Long-running workflow process kicks off.
  • While the workflow is running, we don’t want anyone to change the content of the form.

This example describes how to create a separate "view" and mark the whole view as read-only.  This is a workable approach but has the drawback that you’ve effectively created two entire versions of the same form and must now keep them in sync manually.  If you add a field to the editable view, you must then add it to the non-editable view as well.  Over time, with different developers, there can be some divergence. 

This alternative might work better in some cases:

  • Add a new field to the form called "IsEditable".
  • Set its default value to true.
  • Promote it when publishing to MOSS.
  • In the workflow, set the value of IsEditble to false.
  • Go back to the form.
  • Add a rule that "upon open of the form", disable your save button when IsEditable is false.

The drawback to this approach is that all the fields will still be editable on the screen.  The user can get a false impression that they can actually change content.  You can mitigate that by putting in some text that the form is disabled, possibly in big red letters across the top of the page.

In one project, I created a "workflow status" view.  As the workflow progressed, it would update specific status fields that had been promoted from the form.  When the user opened the form, the "open form" rule automatically switched to that view and the user had a nice little summary status.


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Switch View View Based on User ID In An InfoPath Form

We had a developed an InfoPath form with multiple views to support a new hire / on-boarding process.  When the company hires a new person, the IT department and other groups need to take action (set up payroll, enable access to appropriate applications, locate a desk, etc).  We use on form but a different view of the form for each of those functions.

At this company, most of the people involved in the business process are IT-savvy, so when they access the form, their default view is a "menu" view with buttons that direct them to their specific function.  However, we needed to simplify things for the new hire’s direct manager.  This person should not see any of the IT related stuff.  In fact, she should see just one view of the form and not even have an option to see the other views.

In our case, that direct manager’s account is directly tied to the form courtesy of a contact selector (which I am always wanting to call a "people picker" for some reason).

The steps are as follows:

1. In design mode, go to Tools -> Form Options -> Open and Save.

2. Select "rules".

3. Create a new rule whose action is "switch to view" and whose condition leverages the userName() function.

userName() returns the "simple" user name without the domain.  If I log into SharePoint with credentials "domain\pagalvin", userName() returns "pagalvin".

The contact selector provides three bits of information for a contact.  The "AccountID" portion is most useful for this scenario.  The only thing that makes this even a little bit of challenge is that the contact selector (in my environment anyway) returns the domain and user ID, as in "domain\pagalvin".  This prevents us from doing a straight-forward equality condition since AccountID ("domain\pagalvin") will never equal userName() ("pagalvin"). 

We can get around this using the "contains" operator: AccountID contains userName().

We can take it further and pre-pend a hard-coded domain in front of the userName() function to get our equality check and eliminate the risk of a false positive on the contains operator.

We would have REALLY like to automatically switch view for other users based on their AD security group membership.  For example, when a member of the "IT Analytics" group accesses the form, automatically switch to the IT Analytics view.  We didn’t have time to implement it, but my first thought is to create a web service that would have a method like "IsMemberOfActiveDirectorySecurityGroup", pass it the userName() and return back true or false.  Does anyone have any other, more clever idea?  Is there any SharePoint function we can leverage from InfoPath to make that determination?


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